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War modern, wound ancient

Near Zubayr, April 6 (Reuters): From afar, the Iraq war can look like a mostly high-tech, sanitised affair.

But a visit to this field hospital reveals terrible injuries that could have come from any conflict down the centuries.

“Arms off, legs off, that’s typical of the sort of stuff we’re seeing,” said Major David Lockey, in charge of the intensive care unit of the first British military hospital to be set up in Iraq.

A team of some 600 British doctors and nurses cobbled together from disparate military units tend to about 80 patients at this compound near the southern Iraqi town of Zubayr.

The dusty camp of shipping containers and green canvas tents under the suffocating heat of the desert and surrounded by the burned out detritus of war has treated some 400 casualties and performed 40 operations since US and British forces invaded Iraq on March 20 to overthrow President Saddam Hussein.

“You can see that in the week we’ve been open we have been very busy,” hospital commanding officer Colonel Patrick John said.

Nearby, an Iraqi civilian was having an arm amputated in an operating theatre. Journalists were rushed through the emergency room and told more wounded were expected soon.

British military doctors hovered protectively over a barechested Iraqi patient with a huge white bandage covering a gunshot wound on his leg.

The slight, middle-aged Iraqi civilian said he was brought from the southern city of An Najaf after he was shot and tumbled from a car during fighting between British and Iraqi forces.

“I just want to tell my family that I am okay because nobody knows where I am,” Abed Lazem said.

Doctors said the 34 field hospital has taken in a mix of British soldiers, Iraqi civilians and what the US and British forces call EPWs — enemy prisoners of war.

The compound is a warren of tents housing surgical theatres, laboratories, intensive care, emergency, X-ray, general and isolation wards. Its patients suffer everything from diaorrhea to gunshot and shrapnel wounds.

Badly wounded British soldiers declined to be interviewed, but the agony was plain to see as they stretched out on their beds with red lacerations, and bandaged legs, heads or arms.

Colonel Tim Hodgetts, a professor of emergency medicine, said some of the Iraqi children had been brought in with wounds from the fighting, but most had come in with conditions they had before the war or injuries as a result of accidents in the home.

“We’ve had a series of battle traumas... gunshot wounds and shrapnel,” he said. “(But) the children we are seeing are mostly home accidents, you know like burns from hot water and cooking.”

Inside the wards, prisoners of war, wounded British soldiers and Iraqi civilians lay side by side, lightly guarded. Doctors said all patients are treated equally and interpreters help them to soothe the nerves of wary Iraqis.

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